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Principle 4 states that data held should be accurate and kept up to date.  Reasonable steps must be taken to ensure the accuracy of personal data that is obtained. Although this principle may appear straightforward it is not always practical to double-check the accuracy of every item of personal data that is received, so there is a special provision where individuals provide information regarding themselves.

As long as organisations accurately record information provided by the individual, have taken reasonable steps to ensure its accuracy and if the individual has challenged the accuracy of the information, this is clearly recorded on the file, there will be no breach under this principle.

Organisations must do all they can to avoid ambiguity.  For example, if an individual has moved house from Birmingham to London, a record showing that he currently lives in Birmingham is obviously inaccurate. But a record showing that he once lived in Birmingham remains accurate, even though he no longer lives there.

The records must always be clear about what they show.  Organisations must ensure that the source of any personal data is clear and they need to carefully consider any challenges to the accuracy of information.

They must also consider whether it is necessary to update the information. If the information is used for a purpose that relies on its remaining current, then it should be kept up to date. Where information may be held for historical purposes, it should be noted as historical information.

It is also acceptable to keep records of events that happened in error as long as the records are not misleading about the facts.  For example, a misdiagnosis of a medical condition continues to be held as part of a patient’s medical records even after the diagnosis is corrected because it is relevant for the purpose of explaining treatment given to the patient, or to additional health problems. This would be acceptable under the act.